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Courtesan in Kimono with Carp Design

Courtesan in Kimono with Carp Design

Courtesan in Kimono with Carp Design, Katsukawa Shunsen, c. 1820.

In this beautiful antique print Katsukawa Shunsen incorporates several auspicious symbols and traditional kimono patterns into the intricate kimono of the courtesan. Courtesans or 'oiran' in Japanese were highly-skilled entertainers and artists educated in the arts of dance, music, poetry and calligraphy. They were not merely objects of desire but also champions of culture and traditional crafts. In Japanese art they usually possess a graceful presence embodying the ideals of beauty, refinement, and sophistication.

Carp feature prominently on the courtesan's kimono creating a striking contrast to the geometric sayagata pattern in the top print. Carp are revered for their resilience and determination due to their ability to swim agains the current. In Japanese folklore carp are said to transform into dragons after swimming upstream. They embody the spirit of endurance and ambition and bestow those characteristics on those who wear them.

The geometric sayagata pattern, consisting of interlocking swastikas or Buddhist "manji" motifs, also holds auspicious connotations in Japanese culture. In kimono design, the sayagata pattern symbolises infinity, harmony, and the interconnectedness of all things. Its presence on kimono serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of existence and the eternal flow of time.

The hishi pattern also features on the kimono under layer, characterised by its diamond shape, it is a common motif in Japanese kimono design. The pattern is inspired by the fast-growing, water chestnut plant. Symbolically, the hishi pattern represents prosperity, good fortune, and longevity. Its geometric symmetry is believed to bring balance and harmony to the viewer and wearer. 

Other symbols featured in this print are bamboo which is associated with strength and flexibility, as it is revered for its resilience, as well as the wave motif which symbolises the ebb and flow of life, unpredictability and the passage of time. 

The combination of all these symbols and patterns offer an interesting glimpse into the cultural and symbolic tapestry of Japan which is rooted in auspicious beliefs and full of rich, historical meaning. These patterns all invite contemplation of the deeper meanings of life, the eternal rhythms of nature and bestowing good luck and protection upon the wearer.  

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